Building Better Schools

Is Arlington High School actually coming out of state takeover?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Board of Education member Dan Elsener asks questions of IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee at a board meeting last year.

Indianapolis Public Schools cheered in December when state education policymakers unanimously voted to give control over Arlington High School back to the school district.

But suddenly it wasn’t clear at today’s Indiana State Board of Education meeting if, in fact, IPS would have the ultimate say over what happens to Arlington after all.

“Having ultimate governance authority over a school and administering a school are two separate things,” board member Dan Elsener said. “We didn’t say we’re no longer intervening at Arlington and we’re giving it back to IPS. We were careful there. We took responsibility. If we just say, ‘It’s over now, everything’s fine,’ I’m not too sure that’s realistic.”

Elsener stressed the school remains under state oversight even if IPS resumes operation of the school. December’s vote was to approve IPS to control day-to-day management at Arlington again, contingent on submitting a detailed plan for how it would look.

That came as a surprise to IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who thought he would be given full authority to transition  Arlington from Tindley Schools, a charter school network that has operated it since 2012 but said last summer it wanted out of its contract.

Now Ferebee said he’s not certain who is in charge of Arlington going forward.

“It’s a little confusing,” Ferebee said after the meeting. “What I heard today is … ‘We want our fingerprint on the work.’ That definitely changes our mindset in how we want to plan. We believe community ownership over the transition is going to prove to be the most successful transition. As it stands now, the school is under authority of the state board and we’ll comply with what’s been requested of us.”

Arlington was one of five schools that in 2012 became the first to be severed from school district control by the state board exercising the power of state takeover in Indiana law for the first time. But almost from the start the process has been fraught with confusion over which of three parties — the state board, school district and outside managers — is responsible for what aspects of the school.

Although the takeover operators were given four-year contracts, big changes have been forced on the process in just the third year. Besides Tindley’s early departure from Arlington, Charter Schools USA today pitched a completely different approach to managing Donnan Middle School, a former IPS school it manages. CSUSA wants to jointly manage a reimagined Donnan, expanding the middle school into a K-8 school.

But state officials didn’t seem quite ready to view Arlington and Donnan as something other than schools in state takeover.

“The crux of the challenge with this legislation (is) schools have been turned over to the State Board of Education for intervention, but there was never an exit plan created,” said Danielle Shockey, deputy state superintendent. “We are at this place where for the first time one could potentially exit. They don’t have the advantage of history or following any kind of protocol. It is evolving before our very eyes.”

The state does not want to be in the business of running schools, Elsener said. But he also wasn’t ready for the state board to give up oversight of Arlington. He proposed the state board wait and see if IPS creates a successful plan for the school.

“You get here by last chance hotel,” Elsener said. ” We want a clear plan from (IPS) of what consultants they’re going to use, what template they’re going to use, how they would operate within a transformation zone. If the district we send them back to is well- structured, well-managed, the goal would always be to get local control.”

Board member Gordon Hendry agreed that the state board doesn’t know exactly what it means to exit state takeover.

“That is a challenge,” Hendry said. “Even in the discussions of Charter Schools USA and IPS, there’s not clarity at this time as to whether it will go back to IPS, under what terms. That’s undefined right now.”

Ferebee, who fought to earn back more control of the district’s struggling schools from the state, said the time is now to develop a plan for how to end state takeover.

IPS’s partnership with CSUSA could be the model. Using a state law created last year that allows IPS to forge compacts with charter school companies, Ferebee said the two entities can share oversight for now. Then they can look ways to collaborate on other IPS schools CSUSA managers in state takeover — Howe and Manual high schools.

“We knew the takeover process wasn’t a forever intervention,” Ferebee said. “At some point there has to be strategy around how to transition those schools to the district. We see this as a means to do so. We see this as the beginning of what can be translated to a very smooth and effective transition, not only for Emma Donnan, but also for Manual and Howe.”

CSUSA’s CEO, John Hage, said he doesn’t care what they call the partnership at Donnan if the partnership with IPS improves the school.

“By the time we’re done, there could be 10 different ways to label this thing,” Hage said. “It’s an experiment that has chances for success and for failure.”

Starting young

New York City child care centers are serving more infants, but for poor families seats are scarce

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

Yvette Cora, who works at an East New York day care center, turns down a steady stream of parents asking to enroll their babies.

The center where she works, St. Malachy Child Development Center in East New York, has a contract from New York City to care for babies and toddlers from low-income families. But most won’t get offered a spot until their child is at least 18 months old — it takes six months to a year to get off the baby room waitlist.

“I refer them to home providers, and sometimes after they go visit those homes they come back here and say they prefer it here,” said Cora.

It’s an increasingly common experience for day care providers who work with the city. As interest in early childhood education has grown in the city, more families are seeking spots in day care programs for their babies — but the programs for poor children are actually losing capacity, even as programs that serve more affluent families grow.

With the upcoming transition of the city’s subsidized child care system to the Department of Education (DOE), it remains to be seen how the DOE will prioritize infant care, and whether the agency will find a way to increase the capacity for this age group in centers.

In the past two years, the number of slots for children under 2 years old increased by 10 percent in licensed early education centers citywide — from 9,853 spots in 2015 to 10,806 in 2017, even as total capacity in centers has grown by only 2 percent. That’s according to the Center for New York City Affairs’s analysis of data provided by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which issues licenses to the centers.

At the same time, the child care centers that contract with the city to serve low-income families have been losing their capacity to take in infants and toddlers. The number of openings for children under 2 years old in those centers fell by 8 percent during the same time period, amounting to about 100 lost slots for young children.

The shift means that while Bright Horizons, one for-profit day care provider that charges up to $40,000 per year for full-time care, is growing, there are fewer spots for families whose total annual income is less than that.

“The capacity has grown, but not for poor people,” said Kathleen Hopkins, vice president of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone Department of Community Programs that oversees two centers that provide infant care. “There are still not a lot of options for poor families.”

The scarcity of choice for poor families with infants is largely driven by cost. Infants and toddlers are the most expensive age group to serve in child care centers. Most babies in the subsidized child care system are placed in the far less-expensive but also less-regulated subsidized family child care programs, where women get paid meager wages to look after neighborhood kids in their homes, often their living rooms.

But studies nationwide have found family child care programs to be, on average, of lower quality than center-based care, and there’s been a growing interest in increasing the number of slots for infants and toddlers in subsidized New York City child care centers.

Some say that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K expansion and public awareness campaigns such as “Talk to Your Baby” added urgency to this discussion by raising awareness of the importance of receiving high-quality care during the first few years of life.

Staff at the city’s child care resource and referral agencies say they now see a growing number of parents from all backgrounds who believe that early education centers are better equipped than informal arrangements with friends and family to provide quality care and prepare young kids for school. “It’s a trend of the last five years,” says Nancy Kolben, executive director of the child care resource and referral agency Center for Children’s Initiatives.

Early childhood centers that enroll only families who can pay without public subsidies have responded by charging parents more money to offset the high costs inherent in baby care, including expensive sprinkler systems, ground floor classrooms, and that babies be cared for in small groups.

But at subsidized child care centers, rising rents combined with flat city funding have made infant care elusive, despite efforts from ACS to encourage growth.

“Everything we have seen says it’s a money-losing proposition to do [infant care] as a center-based facility because of the infrastructure you need,” said James Matison, executive director of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, which oversees five early education centers that serve low-income families.

“We lose a lot [of space] if we try to incorporate cribs and changing tables, and enrollment numbers go down,” says Maria Contreras-Collier, executive director of Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation.
Some directors say that serving infants is easier at large child care centers that can dedicate a few rooms to babies without cutting back on overall enrollment.

Hanover Place Child Care, a center in Downtown Brooklyn, is a case in point. A large school with a total capacity for over 300 children, it accepts more vouchers to care for infants than any other center in the city. In recent years, as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified, it has begun attracting families who pay privately.

But after a special-education preschool it shared its building and some staff with closed, Hanover Place lost a security guard, art teacher and a nurse. Meanwhile, rents in the neighborhood skyrocketed as new construction crept closer and closer.

Some local parents fear it is only a matter of time before the Brooklyn real estate boom will lead the center to close its doors entirely, or at least close doors to families unable to pay the tuition necessary to keep them open.

This story is adapted from a policy brief from the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Charter growth

Smaller cohort of charter schools to open in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Daphnè Robinson, director of charter schools for Shelby County Schools, offers recommendations to the school board.

With charter schools comprising a fourth of Shelby County Schools, district leaders say they’re setting a higher bar for opening new ones in Memphis.

The school board approved only three out of 14 applications on Tuesday night, just months after the district overhauled its charter school office to strengthen oversight of the growing sector.

Opening in 2018 will be Believe Memphis Academy, Freedom Preparatory Academy, and Perea Elementary. The approvals mean the district will oversee 55 charter schools, easily the largest number of any district in Tennessee.

But it’s significantly less than last year, when the board green-lighted seven applicants. Since then, Shelby County Schools has doubled the size of its charter oversight office and stepped up scrutiny of applications.

“We want to strengthen the process every school year because, when it comes down to it, the lives of our kids are at stake and millions of dollars in taxpayer money,” said Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management.

This year, the district hired a new leader and new staff for its charter office. It also used five application reviewers from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the group that last year recommended a slew of changes for opening, managing and closing charter schools.

But even with all the changes, the school board didn’t follow all of the staff’s recommendations. Perea’s application had been recommended for denial but, after much discussion, the board voted 7-2 to let the group open an elementary school inside the recently closed Klondike Elementary building. Board members pointed to Perea’s long record of success in operating a preschool at Klondike.

The other two approvals were in line with staff recommendations. Believe Memphis Academy will be a literacy-focused college preparatory school serving students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. Memphis-based Freedom Prep will open its fifth school, which eventually will serve grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.

Board member Teresa Jones expressed concern about deviating from staff recommendations on Perea.

“We have a process. And by all accounts, it’s not a perfect process, but it’s been applied to everyone,” she said.

But Billy Orgel, another board member, said the charter office should have taken into account the long-standing preschool’s performance, even though it’s never operated an elementary school.

“There is a track record with the funders. There is a track record with the school,” he said, adding that “no process is perfect.”

Groups vying for approval this year wanted to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.